Last year The Lower 9th Ward Market opened the first laundry facility in the neighborhood since Hurricane Katrina. This Friday, June 30, the market will hold its grand opening for a music playground.
Officially named The Hangout, the park serves as an interactive art and sound installation created by The Urban Conga. The grand opening—which will have food vendors, live music, and a demo of the music playground—will take place at the Lower 9th Ward Market located at 2036 Caffin Avenue. The event, which is free and open to the public, will take place from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.
The Urban Conga, the partnering design firm behind the playground, describes The Hangout as a large digital turntable. It has a series of illuminated, touch-sensitive cylinders that will emit musical notes on contact.
The idea for a playground made sense to the Lower 9th Ward Market Founder Burnell Cotlon when he noted that Caffin Avenue became a bus stop for a new school.
“I saw the kids that were here. It was a no brainer to me,” Cotlon says. “The kids here should have a playground—something interesting that is new. Not just some swings.”
“This right here is a musical park its something old and young people can play with. This is something new. We don’t have it; it’s the first thing like this in New Orleans,” he adds.
Burnell Cotlon, founder of the Lower 9th Market; Photo by Eric Craig
Creating the Park
The music playground was made possible through a partnership with The Urban Conga, a design fim dedicated to creating community hubs in underutilized areas. The Hangout is the first project the Florida-based firm created in New Orleans, according to The Urban Conga Founder Ryan Swanson.
The idea for the music park started a few years ago when Swanson took a road trip around the United States searching for vacant spots that could be community hubs. The Lower 9th Ward was one of the stops on that trip.
There, Swanson met Ward “Mack” McClendon, who served as a community activist for the Lower 9th Ward. McClendon wanted to create a complex that could bring neighbors together—a thought that would later inspire the paradigm behind The Urban Conga.
“I wanted to bring a project back to the Lower 9th Ward. We wanted to do something that would be on the same scale as Mack would have wanted,” Swanson says.
Swanson noted that community’s strong and enduring relationship with music gave inspiration to creating a music playground.
On a second trip to the neighborhood, several community leaders pointed to Burnell Cotlon’s Lower 9th Ward Market as a starting place for a future community hub.
The Urban Conga secured funding for the music playground by submitting its idea into the KaBOOM! Play Everywhere Challenge—a national non-profit grant for community-based projects that encourage children to play.
The Urban Conga built the park nearly a month ago. Since then, some of the community members were able to demo the unit.
“You saw everybody from a 2-year-old to an 80-year-old just touching it. Just hearing the music,” Cotlon says. “This is something new. We don’t have it; it’s the first thing like this in New Orleans.”